Monday, July 25, 2011

Why I am not a conservative (or a liberal) II

On May 23, 2011, I posted my Why I am not a conservative (or a liberal). Because of the length of it, I decided to concentrate on the conservatives and this is the follow up on liberals.

Let me put this in perspective first. A few months ago I was taking off on Friedrich Hayek’s essay Why I am not a conservative published in 1960 and will now summarize my essay in one paragraph at super speed. In essence Hayek claimed that progressives or socialists seek rapid change and gave too much power to the state, while conservatives move in the direction that the progressives have laid out, only slower, and libertarians (who he calls liberals - the 19th century term) ask not how fast we should change but where we should go. I thereupon tried to falsify the premise of one of my political scientist heroes by showing how his analysis breaks down in real life, including using the example of abortion to do so. Whether an ideology is for moving too fast or slow or asking where instead of how fast is really a matter of perspective. Besides, no one cares. What they really care about is how people feel on the issues of the day. After that, I busted on the conservatives running for president on their positions on American Muslims, gays and atheists. I probably went easy on them on account of being such a nice fellow and all.

Now, as promised then, I turn the same light on those we still usually call liberals, but who now often again refer to themselves as progressives, and who many conservatives or libertarians call socialists or even communists. Thus, today I explain – why I am not a liberal. As with conservatives, most people really do not care so much about the underlying ideology of a liberal’s thinking – people really care whether you agree with them or not on the issues that are important to them and often have no understanding of ideology or political philosophy. That's okay, but I'm going to talk about it anyway.

As I showed in the last installment why the definition of conservative is not as easy as it seems, I have the same, if not worse problem here. It is worse for the following reason. Conservatives like calling themselves conservatives. They revel in it. And, liberals and independents and libertarians, all recognize conservatives when they see them (although it is sometimes hard to distinguish between libertarians and conservatives). So, even if they can’t define it – most people are fairly happy knowing if they or others are conservatives, provided they care about such things.

To the contrary, without having done a study, it is my observation that many people who independents, libertarians and conservatives call liberal, not only don't revel in it, they do not accept the term. Certainly, anyone has the right to deny belonging to an ideological group, and they might have different opinions than many liberals on a number of issues. That is true of conservatives and other ideologies too, but the tendency to disagree with what everyone else thinks is obvious is noticeably greater among those I see as liberal.

I will use one example of someone I know well for many decades (and who does not read this blog), recognizing it is just one example. This friend has never voted for a Republican president or any Republican except a personal acquaintance running locally. He voted for Ralph Nader once but then decided he was too “conservative” to be president (I’m not making this up). He has admitted to being sympathetic with the platform of the American Communist Party. He voted for Obama and detests McCain and Palin, and spoke of Joe Lieberman in scurrilous terms when he ran as an independent and backed his friend McCain. He is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, calls himself multi-cultural, is against drilling in America on land or sea, believes steadfastly in global warming, is against school prayer, seriously believed that Dick Cheney was planning on declaring martial law if Obama was elected (again, seriously) and often refers to Republicans as racist, bigoted, ignorant and other colorful names. Yet, and I do not make this up either, he does not accept liberal as a correct label for him. It's not that he minds labels. He has insisted at times he is a conservative. In fact, he has also recently called himself a Communist Libertarian, which must be sort of like a Constitutional Anarchist or The Santa Bunny.

But, as I said above, I recognize that is just one person and he is in an extreme condition of denial. Yet, many others I know who may not be communists, but never or rarely would vote for a Republican, who voted for Kerry and Obama, two very liberal politicians, who are pro-choice, believe in global warming, etc., also deny their liberalism. Of course, I do know some liberals who say, sure I’m a liberal, but I think it is roughly evenly split.

Usually, I find those who I think are liberals, but believe they are not, claim to be independents. By that they mean the same thing as I do when I call myself an independent (who leans libertarian) - that they are neither liberals or conservatives. No one likes a label they don't agree with, me included, but I often disagree with them for the following reasons.  I (or you) can usually tell the political opinions of an admitted liberal or conservative, but you would have a much harder time with someone who is a true independent, because their beliefs are usually all over the table. If we can usually tell someone’s political opinions on the big issues of the day which match those that are usually described as liberal or conservative, then they are probably not independent, and likely conservative or liberal. I would wager that, most often, if you know someone's opinion on global warming or abortion and other controversial issues, more often than not you can guess what their other policies are.

Ironically, one of the reasons I call myself independent, which is not an ideology, is because so often I am called a conservative by liberals and a liberal by conservatives, very often on the same day or week. I am not alone, of course, for which I am grateful, as the number of independents have been growing in recent years and there are of course liberals who are less liberal than most, and corresponding conservatives.

But, to return to my theme, I find that those I consider liberal are far more likely to see themselves as an independent, than those I consider conservatives are likely to call themselves independent. Again, I can’t explain why. I believe they are sincere, and I do not think they are necessarily ashamed of it (as conservatives would have it).

Let me play political scientist for a little while longer. Can I define a liberal without reference to specific issues?

I would say that ideologically liberals can be defined by the following general propositions which compare them not absolutely, but relatively, to what “most other” Americans want.  I could probably define conservatives with an opposite slate of propositions, but I’m not thinking about that right now. Some of these propositions also overlap.

First, liberals are more likely than others to call for change in law based on changes in the culture, or to move the culture in a desired direction.

Second, they are more likely than others to call for or approve of bigger government and greater involvement in, if not take over of, traditionally private matters, which includes what is sometimes called central planning or corporatism, and also greater taxation.

Third, they have a greater desire for equal outcomes than others relative to their desire for equal opportunities.

Fourth, they are more desirous than others of protecting the rights of those they perceive as minorities or especially vulnerable.

Fifth, they are more comfortable than others with nationwide law than local law.

If you are liberal or lean that way, and you are screaming "not so," because you can think of exceptions, there are probably an equal number of conservatives who think I’ve given liberals credit for things that they don't deserve.

And don’t think because I’m picking on liberals today that I disagree with them on everything. There are many great things in this country which arose because of liberalism and of which I approve, even if I find the legal underpinning laughable - Eradicating voting discrimination based on things like color and sex, extension of so-called “fundamental rights” as against the state, relaxation of ridiculous consensual sex laws and mores, the civil rights movement (the attempt to claim that popular feat by conservatives is absurd – the Southern Democrats in opposition were conservative), criminal defense rights, and so on. I don’t intend that to be a comprehensive list.

There may be a number of answers or criticism to these propositions which I’ll take a shot at too. First, these propositions don’t include all issues which might be said to be typically liberal or conservative. I agree, but that’s because I do not believe all issues which divide the two ideologies are necessarily inherent in that ideology. For example, while it might be said that liberals are more likely to accept new scientific theories, but I believe that includes those which will not prove true as well as those that do. But, I see nothing inherent in the idea of global warming that is either liberal or conservative. I suspect, without hope of proof, that if Limbaugh, Hannity and most Republican leaders had been sold on it, and Kerry, Clinton, ABC and the NY Times had ridiculed it, then many liberals and conservatives might have developed different positions. It is not that I am ridiculing either liberals or conservatives who have firm beliefs on it and who study the issue, but I am saying that I do not believe that even our climatologists have the capacity at this time to understand whether the earth is warming, at all, over a sufficient period of time to measure real change, or to determine whether it is man-made.

I also don’t think going to war and making peace are determined on liberal or conservative principles. I would say instead that partisan feelings are more determinative of how people feel about it. Conservatives tend to agree with wars started or ended by their presidents and liberals with their own. There are exceptions of course – World Wars I and II and the first couple of years of Afghanistan being generally approved. As a perfect example, smacking Qaddafi around was quite popular with conservatives when Reagan did it, but not so popular with them now that Obama is doing it, and vice versa. 

Another criticism might be that there are exceptions to my propositions. For example, a conservative might say, why do you say that liberals are more desirous of protecting minority rights when they oppose inner city citizens having guns? Gun rights is an especially thorny issue and I can't analyze it here; I'm just raising it as an example. A liberal might as well argue, why do you say that we are more likely to approve of government control when it is conservatives who are clearly more prosecution and police oriented? Again, I'm raising it as another example to give credence to the criticism, not to discuss here.

My general answer to this criticism is - well, of course, there are exceptions and thorny issues. Political science is much closer to philosophy than actual science, even when they use some scientific methodology, because it seems to have little or any ability to measurably falsify general principles (polling measures opinions, not general principles). All of it is subject to criticism and exceptions. Try reading my beloved Will Durant’s Story of Philosophy and see how he builds up the philosophies of each man (yes, the philosophers he covered were all men) he covers and then shoots each one down. Philosophy is all about generalities. Even that statement is one. 

Additionally, I’ve studied these political issues on and off for a number of years, increasingly as time goes on, but I wrote the propositions just tonight based on my reading and observations. I'm not unhappy with that as this is a blog, not a book. Nor are propositions that are written over a long period of time necessarily wiser. But, I might alter my own propostions tomorrow or I might not. Next year or not. I’ve been changing my mind about politics for a quarter century and see no reason to stop now. But, basically, I think these propositions are basically correct and probably a good way to look at the issue.

Another criticism which might be quite fair would be that some of the things I might give liberals credit for should actually be given to libertarians, and I would certainly agree that many of the things that I find admirable about liberals are due to their own libertarian leanings, but I would say that is at least equally true of my feelings towards conservatives, if not more so. What I like about any partisan ideology is usually the part of it which agrees with libertarian values.  Still, libertarians must recognize that they are vastly outnumbered by liberals and conservatives, and that to "get their preferences," they almost always have had to influence or go along with one of the two major ideologies. The libertarian connection is more often claimed for conservatives than for liberals, but I don't know that this is correct. I am going to talk about libertarianism on a third day of this ("Who said 'please no more?' I heard that.")

So, all that aside, you may ask if I appreciate so many things about liberals why do I say I am not one. Actually, I was one for a long time. I was raised a liberal and considered myself one until I was in my mid-20s, then gradually less and less until I was confident enough in my beliefs to consider myself opposed to too many liberal or conservative ideas to feel comfortable with either. But, despite my upbringing, at the same time I also had a very strong independent streak, which was pretty obvious, and as strong a libertarian streak, although I did not realize that for a long time. Frankly, these were things I just really didn't talk about a lot until I started blogging in 2006. Even in 1980 I was independent enough to want to vote for John Anderson for president and wished he would win, but, recognizing that he had no chance, I was also liberal enough to vote for Carter because I wanted him to beat Reagan.

But, just as I have said that I am more likely to agree with conservatives on economic issues and oppose them on their attitude towards American Muslims, atheists and gays, I would say the opposite is true with liberals to some degree, particularly with respect to their economic principles, which I think can be quite destructive. By this I am referring to the prediliction for central banking rules that gave tremendous power to bankers via the Federal Exchange with little ability to oversee them by elected leaders (supposedly our system, but increasingly less so), the desire for large comprehensive and often anti-competive regulatory regimes (e.g., the health care plan, but many others) which are so corrupt or complicated and incompetent they might be as bad or worse or in bed with those they want to regulate (perhaps the Dodd-Frank Act is a good example), the preference for taxation over reducing government (both parties are guilty of this, but ideologically, conservatives have it all over liberals - let's face it, right now, who is asking for less taxation and small government?), and, for coercive economic legislation (probably again the health care mandate for those who don't want to buy health care insurance is a prime example and if they had their way, a carbon tax regulatory scheme which is not only coercive, but probably economically destructive).

No matter how you slice it, anything approaching centralized planning (like too big to fail and bailouts) which picks winners and losers and phases out competition is a bad, bad, bad idea. I am fully aware that the Bush administration started some of these policies in reaction to the economic crisis, which were then taken over by the Obama administration, but they were liberal ideas, whoever started it, and are the reason many conservatives now look back at President Bush with a little disappointment (too late, I tell them).

And, indeed, the things I do like about liberalism have in many cases been achieved years ago, and now they go too far. For example, I am opposed to the federal law which requires ethnic or race success as opposed to opportunities and racial quotas (only illegal rhetorically - if you call it diversity, you can do it).

I am not sure that open immigration is an inherently liberal idea which would fit within my propositions, but clearly, the resistance to stronger borders and enforcement of federal immigration laws is all on the left and not on the right (although some on each side cross-over on it like with many issues), and I more often agree with the right on this topic. Close the border as best as possible and then worry about who can stay. If you do not have a border you do not have a country, and if everyone is an American, then there is no American.

As usual, my interest has probably outlasted your interest and I'll wrap up here. Next time I revisit this subject - Why I lean libertarian and why I don't go whole hog with it either.


  1. I think you encapsulate what stances tend to make one a conservative rather accurately. Althogh I do think the gun rights/personal self defense issue does need to be brought into the mix. I also find it amusing that so many "liberals" do seem to run away from the term- which does make it harder to define their beliefs.
    You do explain that for many years-at least up to the time I first met you-you were a liberal. But you don't really explain why. This would be interesting since you also say toward the end of this post that most of what you admire about liberal causes had been achieved- and now brought to excess. This was mostly true in the 80's as well.
    And since I have to find something about which to quibble I will (again) focus on the global warming (hoax) issue. I disagree that if the proponents were reversed that conservatives would be adopting the AGW theory. I believe it goes more to liberals using that theory to have national and global policies adopted to suit their social desires- which, as you described is contrary to conservative ideology.

  2. Thanks for your comment. As to why I was a liberal, it was because I was brought up that way. I really had no political thoughts of my own up until the 80s when I finally started to read and think about how it could be that so many people disagreed with me, yet they seemed like fine people to me. I started out with the conservative of the moment - Pat Buchanan, and learned that he was raised very differently than me, and it was no wonder he had a different opinion.

    The second amendment and global warming are issues I've talked about elsewhere and I'm sure well again. They are big subjects not suitable for a comment, but, I'll stand by my statements and see if I can fit that discussion into my next exciting installment on this topic (not sure). If you are right about either of them, it is the gun control issue. Global warming opinions are formed by most people based on politics, not even lay science (much like Einstein said that people believed in relativity in the early days based on their political party). They either believe Al Gore or Rush Limbaugh on it. I won't say that about you or even Bear as both of you have an interest in it, but, I do not beleive either of you (or anyone) has sufficient information to form a strong opinion on it.

  3. Fair points.
    Hey are you going to do a blog on the Fast & Furious gun running scandal?

  4. No. Though, what's that saying - "all intelligence operations end in tragedy," or something like that?

  5. David, I like your blog. I stumbled across it while researching the Peloponnesian War. As a middle-aged liberal, I agree with your general depiction of many liberals (usually the "party line" types). However, I disagree that most liberals favor equal outcomes OVER equal opportunity.

    You and I have both known people who have beaten the odds and have become successful despite humble beginnings, but this is rare. There will never be an even playing field (having parents that don't value education, for example), but striving for a more level playing field is good for the nation (in my opinion).

    Many of my successful relatives would never have been successful had it not been for the GI Bill (which created opportunity and, in many cases, outcome).

    I also suspect that it is a myth that liberals favor open borders. I certainly don't, and Republicans may talk a lot about closing the borders, nothing ever seems to come of it (nor will anything come of it).

  6. Thanks for your comment, Fred. You may be right, but remember that I also wrote:

    "I would say that ideologically liberals can be defined by the following general propositions which compares them not absolutely, but relatively to what 'most other' Americans want."


    "All of it is subject to criticism and exceptions. Try reading my beloved Will Durant’s Story of Philosophy and see how he builds up the philosophies of each man (yes, all men) he covers and then shoots each one down. Philosophy is all about generalities. Even that statement is one."

    In other words, I hedged and admitted they are generalizations. I don't find that most professional writers on these topics acknowledge so (another generalization - but how often can you say it and remain readable?)and they should.

    I based my inclusion about equal outcomes/opportunity on my reading, conversations with liberals I know and my own beliefs when I was a young liberal, but also on federal law, which has actually codified it. Take a look at the Ricci v. DeStefano, the Supreme Court case, for specifics (you can put "Ricci" in the search box above as I have written here about it a couple of times).

    As to open borders, you are certainly right that Republicans haven't done much about it, but (first, I am not a Republican or a conservative - see my first article on this topic) what has been done has been at their insistence, little as it is. I also know liberals personally who say exactly that, and others who don't say it but in my opinion, seem to want it by their related opinions. Of course, it is not all liberals and there are conservatives like George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan who were easy on illegal immigration.

    I also know conservatives who are pro-choice and liberals who are hawks. They still have a general philosophy I've tried to hit upon. Within the next month (I hope) I will write about my particular political philosophy as part III. Hope you visit.

    p.s. I don't know if you actually read my posts on the Peloponessian War (I think there are 2 or 3), but I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. For all I know, you are an expert on it, but if you happen to not be - any of Donald Kagan's books are, in my opinion, the best you can do. Tell me if you disagree.


Your comments are welcome.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .